Creative Commons Ripoff Enriches Flickr And Microsoft

Posted on 12/2/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Many photographers who thought they were being good Net Citizens when they made their images available with Creative Commons Licenses and allowed anyone to use the images for free have recently received some nasty shocks. Microsoft and Flickr have decided to use those images to enrich themselves. Forget about any benefit to the creator.


Let me provide a little background. There are six different types of Creative Commons licenses.
    1 – All that is required is attribution
    2 – Requires attribution and no derivative uses

    3 -  No commercial use and requires attribution and no derivative uses
    4 – No commercial use and requires attribution
    5 – No commercial use, requires attribution and ShareAlike license
    6 – Requires attribution and ShareAlike license
With a ShareAlike license users are allowed to share a copy and redistribute the image in any format and adapt, remix, transform and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.  If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.   

Creative Commons says that in 2014 there were 882 million images online with one of these six licenses. Over 300 million of them are on Flickr. Here are the breakdowns with the number of images on Flickr with each license.
    1-    58,276,835
    2-    16,578,413
    3 –   80,037,910
    4 –   39,151,303

    5 –   85,186,364
    6 –   27,495,681


It turns out that for years Microsoft has been offering clip art images as part of their Office program. If customers need pictures for their PowerPoint presentation or a report, and are using Office, they can go to the Office clip art and image library to get what they need for free.

The only problem with this service is that most of the images in this library are outdated and generally terrible. Microsoft has discovered that this library is being used less and less as a result of the explosion go pictures online that are available for little or no cost.

So starting today Microsoft is introducing Bing Image Search to its Office customers, worldwide. When Bing is accessed through Office it uses a “copyright filter based on the Creative Commons licensing system. These are images you can use, share, or modify for either personal or commercial use (settings can be switched to Show all web results to view more images)" according to Microsoft.

Microsoft says, "This is a huge win, as business documents and student reports should now feature more modern images."

It seems likely that many users will not pay close attention to the new license rules. They are used to getting free images with no strings attached. Even the most permissive CC license requires that the creator be credited and most Outlook users will probably ignore that requirement.

On the other hand image creators are unlikely to see most of these uses so they won’t know their images are being used in ways they never intended.


As Paul Melcher reported last week in his online Kaptur Magazine Flickr is now making it possible for customers to get canvas fine art prints of any image found in the Creative Commons “Attribution License” collection (over 50 million images). Flickr has promised to put a label with the creators name on the back of each print as a way of complying with the CC license rules. However, all revenue from this endeavor goes into Flickr’s (Yahoo’s) pocket.

Back in August Flicker announced that they were going to help photographers monetize their work. They said,“Our curatorial team will provide assistance, outreach and connectivity to help you get your photos licensed!” When the images of photographers who signed up for this option are used for these canvas prints the photographers will get 51% of any revenue generated. (We assume this is after printing and mailing costs are deducted.) Creative Commons photographers get nothing.

The Wall Street Journal reported that photographer Liz West who makes her images available on Flick with a CC license said, “It ticked me off that somebody else is selling them when I was giving them away.”

The Wall Street Journal contacted 14 Flickr photographers with Creative Commons-licensed works. Eight said they didn’t object to Yahoo’s move and are happy to get additional exposure for their work. “Any amateur photographer would love to have his or her photos hanging on walls around the world,” Andreas Overland, a Flickr user in Oslo, Norway, said in an email.

However, the other six, including Ms. West, objected to the company profiting from their images.

“When I accepted the Creative Commons license, I understood that my images could be used for things like showing up in articles or other works where they could be showed to the public,” Nelson Lourenço, a photographer in Lisbon, Portugal, told the Journal in an email. Yahoo “selling my work and getting the full money out of it came as a surprise.”

In his story Melcher pointed out that tech companies “created by programmers, developers, or serial entrepreneurs” don’t like to share income. Their attitude tends to be, “Why, after all, should you reward anyone besides yourself if you can turn something that used to be free into valuable assets. You built the platform, you created a demand, you operate the marketplace then why should you share anything with those that are uploading images for free?”

They often forget about the energy, effort and creativity that went into producing the content. Without this content no one would be interested in looking at their platform no matter how technologically innovative it might be. Those who make content available for free are usually happy to help the poor and the downtrodden. They don’t mind giving, if there is some way they can benefit as well. But, when they are expected to give, give, give and there is no possibility of a reciprocity then they feel used and exploited. If their material is used in a way that generates revenue most feel they are entitled to a share of that revenue.

Copyright © 2014 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


Be the first to comment below.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff